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  • Paula Altenburg

Getting to know your characters

Updated: May 30, 2021

Before I start a new story, I make a sincere effort to get to know the people I’ll be working with for the next few months. Think of it as a meet-and-greet for new staff.

Here are some of the techniques I use:

1. Secrets and Flaws

Everyone has something they don’t want anyone to know. I’d tell you mine but then I’d have to kill you. I’d tell you my husband’s, but then he’d have to kill me. (See how this works?) Everyone has a character flaw, too. These aren’t always obvious to the individual, but since you control your character, you can give them one and exploit it. If it’s a main character and you want readers to like him/her/them, then you spend your story beating it out of them. (If you know what a story beat is, then that’s pretty funny.) If it’s a secondary character or an antagonist, then use it against the main character(s). That’s how you torture them.

2. Mottos and Songs

I like to give my character a motto and assign them a song. If my character is a “Seize the Day” kind of person, then their song might be (oddly enough) Seize the Day by Carolyn Arends. It might also be Sound of Silence—the Disturbed version. Since my heroes are contemporary cowboys, I might choose something by Little Big Country or Jason Aldean.

3. Goal, Motivation, Conflict (Thank you, Debra Dixon!)

Here’s one I used recently:

4. Character Photos

Hugh Jackman shows up a lot. So does Chris Hemsworth. And Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn… Don’t get me started. Any Lord of the Rings fans out there?

~Photo by Vincent M.A. Janssen from Pexels

5. Profiling

Myers Briggs is always a good one.

However you choose to get to know your characters, always remember that your readers want to know them, too. Putting thought into how you’ll portray them is well worth the effort.

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